What if the Nazis had won? A 1960s top 40 radio sampler
10:54 am



Alternate history is a fascinating genre of fiction. You have your anachronistic nostalgia, like steampunk, but that tends to be largely aesthetic, and I’m not that into parasols or goggles. (Also, the glorification of less technology tends to overlook some really inconvenient historical realities, like how inefficient steam power actually was.) I prefer my alternate histories to be horrifying dystopias, and “what if the Nazis won?” certainly fits the bill. There are some critically acclaimed novels based on that very premise—Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle,  Robert Harris’ Fatherland, and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, but this has to be the first time a video game has been set in a world where Hitler triumphed.

The Wolfenstein video game franchise has produced nine editions in total (the original in 1981), all of which are based on fighting Nazis. The latest incarnation, Wolfenstein: The New Order, takes place in the 1960s, where the player navigates a Nazi-controlled Europe in hopes of launching a counter-offensive against the regime. What appeals to me, of course, is the custom-made soundtrack—the “commercial” below is for a compilation of the 1960s “Nazi pop” that will play throughout the game.

The pre-order for Wolfenstein also includes a package of “artifacts,” like postcards and military patches, but it’s the soundtrack that really establishes the mood for a game. There’s prom-worthy slow-dances, bubblegum pop, growling rockabilly, beach-blanket bingo surf rock, and even some Teutonic psychedelia. You can listen to the whole thing here. I feel like the fact that I speak absolutely no German actually frees up my ear to recognize the attention to sonic detail.

Via A.V. Club

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
Treat yourself to that real working guillotine you’ve always wanted!

If you’re going to stage a coup d’etat, you need to make a bold statement to the populace that you’re not playing around, and what says “DO NOT TRIFLE WITH THE NEW ORDER” like public executions? Trouble is, modern methods like lethal injection are too painless and clinical to satisfy the bloodlust of a proper mob, so how’s a budding dictator to quash dissent?

Auctioneer Francois-Xavier Duflos of Nantes, France may have your execution solution. Via The Local:

A working French guillotine is expected to fetch up to €60,000 [about $83,500 USD] when it goes under the hammer on Thursday in the western French city of Nantes. 

The wood, iron, steel and brass relic, synonymous with the French Revolution, was used to execute people in the second half of the 19th century.

The blade of the guillotine bears the inscription ‘Armees de la Republique,” a reference to the Revolutionary Army that was created to defend France from its neighbors in the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution.

“It was used by the army, it was assembled and disassembled,” Duflos told Europe 1. “It has certainly known several battlefields.”


“It was used by the army” surely means that people met their doom on this very machine, right? How could it be otherwise? Though the devices are most closely associated in the world’s consciousness with Maximilien de Robespierre’s excesses in the French Revolution, France used guillotines as their primary method of execution until 1977.

Bidding begins on Thursday. Good luck.

This 2004 interview with France’s last living guillotine executioner is mercifully bereft of any actual beheading footage. Its subject only speaks French, but if you turn the captions on, they’re not only in English, they’re sometimes wrong in amusing ways.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
‘Juden Raus’: Nazi-era anti-Semitic board game where you deport the Jews

Juden Raus!
Who would have guessed that the Holocaust wouldn’t make for a perfectly peachy board game for the little German children of the Third Reich? As it turns out, getting rid of all the Jews just isn’t that much fun. (Of course, given sound game design principles, just about anything can be made fun, but foregrounding one’s own small-minded intolerance and hatred and desire to exile a minority group is probably not the first step in that creative process.)

In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws were passed in Germany—these laws codified the desire of the Nazis, at a minimum, to segregate Jews from all areas of public life. In effect the laws—which communicated the idea, “You’re not wanted here!”—were a powerful argument for accelerated out-migration. Those Jews who could afford it and who also avoided the tragic tendency to rationalize away the hatred directed towards them, got the point, and left if they hadn’t already done so. As the years ticked by, the urgency of getting some kind of exit visa would only increase.

A year after the Nuremberg Laws, a company called Günther & Co. released a Parcheesi-style board game; its title was one of the ugliest phrases in human history—Juden Raus! The title is best translated as, “Jews, Get Out” or possibly “Get Rid of the Jews” depending on your conception of agency, and is the most succinct possible expression of the official German attitude towards Jews under the Third Reich. (The word “official” is important here. Anti-Semitism was certainly popular enough to become a key pillar of the ideology of the state, but just as Tea Partiers don’t like Obamacare, not all Germans were equally afflicted by the disease.)
Juden Raus!
“Juden Raus! Das Neue Gesellschafts-Spiel” (“Out with the Jews! The Game of the New Society”)
In the game, young Germans across the Reich were encouraged, in what practically seems a parodic Firesign Theatre-style intervention, to move the six “Jew” game pieces around the board in such a way as to secure them on spots outside the metaphorical “wall” of the German state such that they would be transported “Auf nach Palästina!” (Off to Palestine!). Each game piece came with a conical “dunce”-style cap with a grotesque Jewish caricature on it. On the board itself were two little pieces of doggerel that helped explain the goal of the game: Zeige geschick im Würfelspiel, damit du sammelst der Juden viel! (“Show skill in this dice game, so that you gather up all the Jews!”) and Gelingt es Dir 6 Juden rauszujagen, so bist Du Sieger ohne zu fragen! (“If you succeed in chasing six Jews out, you’re the winner, without a doubt!”) At a guess, the inherently cooperative nature of something like the Holocaust interferes with the competitive imperatives of a good board game. In other words, how did the game work, exactly? If I exile three Jews and you exile just two, then I win? It doesn’t quite make sense.
Juden Raus!
“Off to Palestine with you, little Jew!”
Surprisingly, the best evidence we have suggests that the Nazis themselves didn’t like the game. Why? Because it had the effect of trivializing such the, er, “noble” task of purifying Germany. In one of the most remarkable bits of prose I have ever read, the Nazi newspaper Das Schwarze Korps in December 1938 published a brief review in which they sharply criticized the game.

This invention ... is almost a punishable idea, perfectly suitable as grist to the mills of hate of the international Jewish journaille, who would show around such a piece of mischief as a proof for the childish efforts of the nazistic Jew-haters with a diabolic smirk, if it would appear before her crooked nose.


Jews out! yes of course, but also rapidly out of the toy-boxes of our children, before they are led into the dreadful error that political problems are solved with the dice cup.

In a recent academic paper about the game, which they aptly label “History’s most infamous board game,” Andrew Morris-Friedman and Ulrich Schädler get in the final word:

What insights are achieved from “Juden Raus!” about Nazi culture? It is hard to imagine a family sitting at a table playing a game that taught racial hatred. Yet it seems there were people like Rudolf Fabricius who imagined that some families would do just that. Fabricius was one of those mere supporters who thought to make some profit by following in the wake of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda. Today most people react with disbelief or disgust when informed of the game’s existence. “Juden Raus!” shows that after decades of propaganda, anti-Semitism was so deeply rooted in German society in the 1930s, that someone thought it would be a good subject for a children’s game. Racism is present in many board games, but “Juden Raus!” is unique in its portrayal of how racism manifests itself in society and is a terrifying example of the banality of evil.

In my research for this post, I stumbled across a more contemporary attempt to depict the full horror of the Holocaust in the form of a board game. Brenda Brathwaite’s 2009 game Train turned the task of loading little yellow people onto trains for some undisclosed final destination, with the reveal, late in the game, that the destination is actually Auschwitz, although the game’s suitably grim visual design gives the punchline away well before that point is attained.
Here’s a 2009 video from The Wall Street Journal about Brathwaite’s game Train:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
The first kiss ever filmed was between two women, and shot by a murderer
10:01 am



As long as we’re all watching black and white videos of strangers kissing, (and now their X-rated parodies), why don’t we take a stroll down memory lane to the very first filmed kiss, shot by groundbreaking English photographer, Eadweard Muybridge, sometime between 1872 and 1885. The kiss was (gasp) between two women, but lest your prurient interests get the better of you, remember that Victorian culture didn’t really “get” lesbianism, and the nudity was to aid in Muybridge’s dedicated study of motion. From the Muybridge online archives:

While the Victorians were extremely sexually prudish by modern standards and commonly considered male homosexuality a serious threat to their society they believed women had little or no sex drive. Therefore the possibility of lesbianism was commonly ignored.

Because of Victorian sexual taboos Muybridge was not able to photograph men and women naked together and was only able to publish images of naked men together engaging in sports or work. Because he was free to show women naked together he used female models when he wanted to show two people engaging in ordinary activities. In many plates he had one of the women assume a typically male role and these are the plates which today we tend to perceive as homo-erotic.

You can see photos from the series below, as well as Muybridge’s “movie,” The Kiss. Of course, this was well before the invention of the motion picture camera—he simply set up a rig of rapidly firing cameras in sequence.

Fun fact: Muybridge actually shot and killed his wife’s lover, a man called Major Harry Larkyns, upon learning that he may have fathered their seven-month-old son. Muybridge actually tracked the guy down and said,  “Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here’s the answer to the letter you sent my wife,” right before shooting him, point blank. Larkyns died that night, and Muybridge was arrested. He pleaded insanity on account of a 12 year old head head injury. While the jury dismissed the insanity plea, they actually acquitted him for justifiable homicide. Muybridge and his wife divorced, she died, the son was sent to an orphanage, and though Muybridge paid the boy’s childhood expenses, he did not maintain contact.

So to review: Shooting people who sleep with your wife—ok. Women and men being filmed together—very not ok. That’s those wacky Victorians for you!






Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
‘Without the Girls, Show Biz Is No Biz’: Gordon Parks’ gorgeous color images of showgirls at work
12:23 pm


Gordon Parks

Celebrated LIFE magazine photographer Gordon Parks shot these around Christmastime in 1958. They were used in a 200-page special issue on the glories and absurdities of American entertainment. Parks’ series was titled “Without the Girls, Show Biz Is No Biz.”

They’re soft focus and oh so beautiful. Very much like a Edgar Degas piece when he painted ballet dancers.




More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
Shrek in the orgone box: William Steig’s misanthropic drawings for Wilhelm Reich

Cartoonist William Steig is beloved, and rightly so. Starting in the 1930s, his thousands of New Yorker panels (and over 100 covers) made him a giant in the cartooning world, and showed him to be an astute observer and renderer of human nature and the consequences of social class conditions (and a gifted ironist, to boot). His late-in-life career detour into children’s books yielded classics like CDB!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and the completely awesome Rotten Island. Then in 1990, he wrote a little 32 page book about an ogre named Shrek, which has been adapted into four massively successful films (so far) and more video game spinoffs than I feel like trying to count. Steig’s gifts were lost to us in 2003, when he died at age 95.

A bit of trivia: Steig was a devotee of the controversial theories of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Wilhelm Reich, after an apparent encounter with David Lynch’s barber
There is plenty to read online about Reich, both pro and con, so I will not go into great depth here. Reich was a psychotherapy pioneer, an associate of Freud’s in the 1920s, who went on to adopt some extreme positions. He was blindingly obsessed with the importance of orgasmic potency, and advocated levels of sexual permissiveness that alienated many of his contemporaries. Reich’s later career was devoted to the exploration of a cosmic energy that linked physical and mental/emotional health, “discovered” by and apparently detectable only to him, that he dubbed “orgone.” This led to his construction of supposedly therapeutic devices like the “orgone accumulator,” and “orgone cannons” (“cloudbusters”) that he claimed could be used as rainmaking devices. None of these claims have withstood scientific scrutiny, but they still have impassioned devotees.

US government medical authorities, believing Reich to be not misguided, but in fact a fraudster, won legal injunctions against the distribution of orgone accumulators as unlicensed medical devices in 1954. In 1956, Reich was imprisoned for violating that injunction, and, in one of the most notorious and singularly revolting episodes of official censorship in US history, the government supervised the burning of six tons of Reich’s books, devices, and clinical notes. Reich died in prison before he finished serving his two-year sentence, which, combined with the book burning, made a martyr of him among the types of people who think they can build perpetual motion machines in their garages and those knee-jerky “libertarian” paranoiacs who assume that anything that’s been suppressed MUST BE TRUE. However, despite Reich’s pariah status, there are ideas worth discussing in works like The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Function of the Orgasm, among others. The title of his 1936 work The Sexual Revolution was certainly prophetic enough.

Reich and Steig’s works converged in 1949, when, frustrated that his work wasn’t being taken seriously by mainstream science (also a lil’ frustrated that he wasn’t being hailed as a savior of mankind), Reich penned an amazing and engaging screed denouncing the pettiness and stupidity of humanity, called Listen, Little Man! In it, he lambasted humanity for what he, with plentiful justification, saw as an overwhelming laziness in people, who eagerly favored their herd instincts over their greater potential, collaborating in the self-defeating destruction not just of society, but of the species itself, and so become less victim than harbinger. In the wake of WWII (ethnically a Jew, Reich fled Europe in the ‘30s), he saw little in the defeat of the Nazis to convince him that people weren’t just embracing different reasons to goose-step. The book loses some of its potency when you realize that he’s mainly so upset with people because his theories were being rejected, so ultimately you’re reading a self-mythologizing, self-pitying lashing out, a lengthy screed not unlike Bela Lugosi’s famous “I have no home” speech in Bride of the Monster. It’s still a great read if you’re in a misanthropic mood, and it contains wonderful artwork by William Steig.

Steig had skillfully handled this sort of content before, in his own books About People, The Lonely Ones, and Persistent Faces. Inspired by Picasso and Klee, he abandoned the relatively realistic brush-and-ink drawings that shaped his early fame and moved towards a more stark, abstract style, at once loopy and angular, obeisant only to the emotional truth of a character. And his assessments of wayward humanity became more and more brutal and incisive. This work was caricature as revelation. In his introduction to The Lonely Ones the great New Yorker writer Wolcott Gibbs wrote

Mr. Steig offers us a series of impressions of people set off from the rest of the world by certain private obsessions, usually, it seems, by a devotion to some particularly disastrous clichéd thought or behavior. They are not necessarily unhappy. Some of them, in fact, are obviously only too well pleased with themselves…

Righty Reich…

The illustrations in Listen, Little Man! are obviously well within this particular body of Steig’s work, and they constitute some of its most trenchant examples. It seems clear that this style of Steig’s was shaped to a degree by his therapeutic relationship and friendship with Reich—Steig even wrote the preface to Reich’s Children of the Future. Steig’s follow-up to Listen, The Agony in the Kindergarten, was absolutely a Reichian work, in which Steig BLASTED, with breathtakingly powerful pairings of pain-filled drawings and simple captions, the way Western childhood development can be pockmarked or even derailed by adult repression. Which invariably leads to the cultivation of grownups like those in Listen Little Man!, who really are just awful, awful people.









Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
Hear a broadcast from the Tokyo Rose, Japan’s World War II radio propaganda disc jockey
07:00 am


World War II
Tokyo Rose

Iva Toguri
Iva Toguri D’Aquino
The Tokyo Rose is one of the more ingenious and chilling bits of psychological warfare in human history. During World War Two, in an effort to unnerve American GI’s and lower morale, the Japanese broadcast an English-language radio show hosted by a rotating roster of female voices. “Tokyo Rose” was the generic moniker given (by Americans) to all the announcers, but the most famous voice (and probably the one you hear in the broadcast below) was that of Iva Toguri D’Aquino, an American who had the misfortune to have been caring for a sick aunt in Japan when the war broke out. After the war, she was arrested and convicted of treason—apparently being a prisoner of war was no excuse for making a radio show. She wasn’t released until 1956.

The format of the show was actually pretty brilliant; in between coy “updates” on the war, (and insinuations of Japan’s impending attacks), Tokyo Rose would play the hits of the day. The show was incredibly popular among American serviceman. Rumors circulated that she possessed insider knowledge of American military actions. Some said she named specific servicemen as recent captures in her broadcasts—this is completely unsubstantiated, of course, and popular opinion is that the myth of Tokyo Rose flourished in the bewildered minds of her targets. And it that sense, the program was a complete success; Americans did overestimate the power and knowledge of Axis Japan.

Similar programs were employed by other Axis countries, including the insidious Lord Haw Haw in Germany, but none quite had the eery charm of Tokyo Rose, whose sweet voice and romantic tunes belied a brutal war.

Bonus: I’ve also included the grotesquely racist piece of American propaganda, Tokyo Woes. The 1945 Bob Clampett-directed Warner Brothers cartoon was only intended for viewing by the US Navy. Nothing sells war quite like racism and the promise of a hero’s welcome after a quick and easy victory.

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
‘Songs of America’: Simon & Garfunkel travel across a turbulent US in emotional 1969 TV special

Simon and Garfunkel’s 1969 television special “Songs of America” shows the two on stage, in the studio and on a concert tour across a turbulent country. Their ambitious Bridge Over Troubled Water album had yet to be released and the glorious title song was heard here by the general public for the very first time. The program showed news clips of labor leader/activist Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, the Poor People’s Campaign’s march on Washington, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, JFK and Robert Kennedy and other events that were emblematic of the era.

“Songs of America” was originally sponsored by the Bell Telephone Company, but the execs there got cold feet when they saw what they’d paid for—legend has it that they looked at the footage of JFK, RFK and MLK during the (powerful!) “Bridge Over Troubled Water” segment (approx 12 minutes in) and asked for more Republicans! (Not assassinated Republicans, just more Republicans...you know, for balance!) The special was eventually picked up by CBS.

It was directed by the comedic actor, writer and later talk show host Charles Grodin, a friend of the duo. Grodin had already been in a bit part in Rosemary’s Baby (he was the obstetrician), but had yet to gain notoriety with his role in Catch-22.

Songs heard include “America,” “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Bridge over Troubled Water,” “Scarborough Fair,” “El Condor Pasa (If I Could),” “Punkys Dilemma,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Mystery Train,” “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” “The Boxer,” “Homeward Bound,” and “The Sound of Silence.”

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Hilarious, cutting tweets will get you up to speed on our inglorious U.S. presidents
11:54 am


U.S Presidents

U.S. President
Can you identify this man?

Today is Presidents Day, and that means it’s time for a mattress sale or, more likely, a day at home catching up on House of Games or The Walking Dead. But you could also spend it getting edumacated about the impressive personages who have occupied that lofty office.

Eh, takes too long, right? And who really gives a hoot about all those bearded jokers from the 19th century? But what if I told you that a gregarious professor of history has done all the work for you, by crafting 44 (actually 46) witty tweets so that you can at least know the thumbnail takeaway for each President? Erik Loomis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and a blogger at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, and he’s done exactly that: summarized every President’s accomplishments in a tweet.

Nearly all of the tweets are pretty cutting, and there’s a heavy emphasis on imperialist adventures abroad and racist and/or union-busting activities at home, which is fine with me. Here are a few of the more memorable ones:



I can hear you now at your next cocktail party, perfectly primed to uncork your newfound wisdom on your unsuspecting prey: “Oh, Harding? Yes, he liked bicycles, you know.” (Unfortunately, since everything I know about Harding comes from that tweet, I have no idea what that actually means.)

With the more recent presidents, it’s easier to have a informed opinion: I think Loomis underrates Eisenhower and Reagan mildly, but those assessments are very much in keeping with the others, and he makes a valuable point about Nixon, who did such “liberal” things as create the Environmental Protection Agency largely as a way to splinter and generally confuse the Democratic Party: “Not a domestic liberal people. Quit saying that. Signed those bills b/c Congress would have overridden veto.” And I think this is the exact right take on LBJ:

To shore up your newfound knowledge, here’s an Animaniacs clip that accomplishes much the same thing (without the left-wing bias):

(By the way, the dude at the top of the page is Millard Fillmore.)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
Witty, macabre playing cards comment on the fresh horrors of the Nazi concentration camps
12:41 pm



Boris Kobe
These fascinating playing cards are the work of a Slovenian artist named Boris Kobe who was held by the Nazis as a political prisoner in Allach, which was a sub-camp of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. Kobe lived to see the end of the war, and was a very successful architect in his native Slovenia afterwards; he died well into his seventies in 1981. His most prominent project after the war was probably the restoration of the Ljubljana Castle with Jože Plečnik.

As I see it, it’s a little unclear when and where these cards were made. Sources uniformly describe them as having been made “at Allach”—yet at least one of them appears to have been made after the Allied liberation of the camp, and it’s difficult to imaging Kobe hanging around the camp for very long after that. Certainly there wasn’t weeks of clandestine card games going on after that crucial moment. It’s difficult to tell, but there might be a little rhetorical sleight of hand going on there.

Whatever the case, the cards are simply remarkable. First, they look pretty great; Kobe was a gifted caricaturist, and there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained simply from looking at them. But most importantly, they show a life at Dachau close-up in the frankest terms. The cards depict inmates and guards alike, although most of the figures depicted are inmates forced to do back-breaking work, crowded into bunk beds,  disrobing en masse, and, of course, as a pile of skeletons. The king of clubs is depicted as a skeleton.

As I mentioned, these cards were almost certainly created after the liberation of Allach on April 22, 1945 by the 42nd Rainbow Division of the U.S. Army. How do we know this? It’s apparently depicted in one of the cards: Card XXI seems to show liberation, the Slovenian flag, and a tombstone-like image marked “Allach” that is being consumed by flames.

The cards are intended for a game variously called Tarock/Tarot, but the word tarot here is likely to be misleading to English-speaking audiences. Tarock/Tarot is a trick-based game like spades or gin that was popular in the Habsburg Empire and Europe generally for centuries. So this is not a tarot deck in the occult sense as we would think of it; that should be obvious from a glance at the cards, which lack characters like The Fool, The Magician, The Hanged Man, The Sun, and so on. To their creator Kobe and whomever else originally used them, it was just a regular deck of playing cards. I have family in Austria and on my visits there we would sometimes play a related game called “Schnapsen” which didn’t require four players and used a restricted deck, I think the cards only went down as far as the eight card. Basically a game of Schnapsen there was equivalent to the way dominoes is played in a lot of places, you’d play it aimlessly and shoot the shit and gossip.

See the complete deck at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies website hosted by the University of Minnesota. The original deck is at the Archives of the Republic of Slovenia.
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
Boris Kobe
More of these amazing cards after the jump….

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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